Witches, skeletons, mythical beasts and more: Discover spooky illustrations and stories virtually or in-person with UAB Libraries

Written by 
by Haley Herfurth

The Reynolds-Finley Historical Library, located in Lister Hill Library of the Health Sciences, houses a growing collection of more than 20,000 rare books, manuscripts, journals and pamphlets pertaining to the history of medicine, science and health care, dating from the 1300s through the mid-1900s.

Two of the library’s permanent virtual exhibits, “Monsters, Marvels and Mythical Beasts,” and “Witchcraft, Women and the Healing Arts in the Early Modern Period,” explore spooky stories perfect for the Halloween season. Click through the slideshows to see a selection of photos and visit the virtual exhibits to learn more. 

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Monsters, Marvels and Mythical Beasts

Tales dating back to antiquity are ripe with monstrous and fantastical beings — ancient writers and storytellers often fused the fantastic with the natural, cultivating this ideology and passing it down through the ages. Eventually, these stories evolved into the creation of entirely fictional literature that draws from the ancients and mirrors the evil of men through monstrous beings and the eternal struggle between good and evil. 

Developed using original books from the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library and Sterne Library, this virtual exhibit features mythological monsters of the Classical, Germanic and Jewish peoples alongside supposedly natural creatures like dragons, merfolk, animal/human hybrids and others that appear in natural history works of the medieval and early modern period.

It also includes later Gothic literary titans such as Frankenstein from the novel by Mary Shelley, Dracula from the novel by Bram Stoker, and the nefarious Mr. Hyde from Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde,” plus modern-day examples from the hit Harry Potter franchise.


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  • Shown here are amulets from Georg Bartisch’s “Ophthalmodouleia” (1583). Various types of amulets circulated in apothecary shops and were promoted by physicians to ward off magical disease. Small containers of holy water, copies of the gospels, signs of the cross and crucifix, and other holy objects were worn around the neck to protect against the evils of witchcraft. 

    Visit the virtual exhibit

  • Shown above are the contortions associated with hysteria, from T. J. McGillicuddy’s "Functional Disorders of the Nervous System in Women" (1896). Periods of delirium and hallucinations are also represented in McGillicuddy's description of the disorder. 

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  • In this illustration, midwives and astrologers practice their arts side by side, from the 1580 edition of Jakob Rüff’s popular Renaissance midwifery book, "De Conceptu et Generatione Hominis." 

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Witchcraft, Women and the Healing Arts in the Early Modern Period

Though witches have an ancient history as individuals with a strong connection to the forces of the natural world, they were identified by Europeans during the late Middle Ages as those possessed by or in allegiance with the devil or demons, making it very serious form of heresy.

The well-known Roman Catholic Inquisition retained the power to prosecute witches from the 13th century forward, but witch-hunts did not become widespread until the late 1400s. In a 1484 papal bull, Pope Innocent VIII acknowledged the existence of witches and their ability to do harm, further granting permission to inquisitors to prosecute them. In 1486, inquisitors Heinrich Kramer and Jakob Sprenger published the “Malleus Maleficarum,” or “The Witch’s Hammer,” a guidebook for identifying practitioners of the magical craft, causing an increase in hunts for witches, their resulting trials and tortures, and tens of thousands of deaths by burning, hanging and drowning throughout Europe and colonial America.     

Witch-hunts persisted with full force through the 16th, 17th and early 18th centuries, strengthened by the publication of additional manuals for hunters. This virtual exhibit explores the interplay of gender and health care in the witch craze of early modern Europe and America and the connections between witchcraft lore and disease, medicine and the role of women in health care during this period.


Take a virtual tour of Reynolds-Finley Historical Library

Explore the library virtually with 360-degree angles and click on illustrations and items from the collection — including anatomical skeletons, ghostly images and spooky objects, just in time for Halloween.


Visit the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library in person to see more creepy content

Anyone can make an appointment to visit the RFHL and page through books, manuscripts, journals and pamphlets. Email pbalch@uab.edu or call 934-4475 to make an appointment.

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  • “Death’s Doings…”, published in 1828, includes original literary compositions of death in various scenes. The frontispiece, pictured here, depicts one skeleton delivering a sermon to a congregation and the second acting as a lectern for the speaker.

  • Maiden skeleton (find info in virtual exhibit): This image from “Album Comique de Pathologie Pittoresque” by Charles Aubry (1823) depicts a graveyard scene featuring a maiden skeleton being a waited on by two gentlemen. The book itself is filled with comical cartoon illustrations regarding pathology.

  • These images of mummies are found in “A Compleat History of Druggs,” written by Pierre Pomet and published in 1725. Between the 12th and 17th centuries, the use of mummy remains as a drug was quite common in Europe. Bitumen, a liquid or solid form of petroleum, was used in the mummification process and was thought to contain medicinal properties — it originally was derived from ancient Egyptian mummies but eventually was obtained from medicated corpses sold to apothecaries.

  • This image was taken from “Phrenological Illustrations” by British caricaturist George Cruikshank (1826) and features a cartoon with a spooky ghostly encounter.

  • This image was taken from “Phrenological Illustrations” by British caricaturist George Cruikshank (1826) and features a cartoon with a spooky ghostly encounter.

  • William Cowper included this drawing in his 18th-century "Anatomia corporum humanorum," which was considered the finest anatomy book in England during the first half of the 18th century.

  • William Cowper included this drawing in his 18th-century "Anatomia corporum humanorum," which was considered the finest anatomy book in England during the first half of the 18th century.

  • The first edition of “De humani corporis fabrica,” published in 1543 by famous anatomist Andreas Vesalius when he was just 29 years old, revolutionized both the science of anatomy and how it was taught. He provided more detailed descriptions of human anatomy than any of his predecessors.